38: Johnny

38: Johnny

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Johnny

A young lady is a female child who has just done something dreadful.

~Judith Martin

My parents were not cool. They did not try to be my friends. They did not keep up with the latest trends or host teen drinking parties. They were very well practiced in the art of saying “no.” Most of the rules and the “no’s” were issued by my mother. My father was the more easy-going parent — the parent from whom I asked permission first and who would invariably respond: “Go ask your mother.”

However, there was one area of parenting where he took charge: dating. His only stated rule was that my date must always come to the door when picking me up. The rule seemed harmless enough — an opportunity for a father to make sure the young man escorting his daughter for the evening was enough of a gentleman to make the twenty-yard trek from the driveway to the front door, shake my father’s hand, look him in the eye and compliment my mother. However, my father was never just evaluating handshakes and date night plans. And I knew it.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I had just turned seventeen, was working in a deli and had a huge crush on a coworker. The coworker, Johnny, was twenty-two and in college. Apparently, Johnny was not completely oblivious to my dopey giggles and smiles because toward the end of the summer, about a week before he had to return to school, he asked me out. I was thrilled, excited and I immediately concocted a way to avoid having Johnny come to the front door. My parents might recognize Johnny and I knew they would not approve of me going on a date with a college guy five years my senior. Meeting him out was not an option; I wanted this to be a “real” date, meaning he would drive.

Luckily, Johnny chose an early movie for us and would have to pick me up well before the time my father returned home from work. I told my mom that I was going with some friends from school and one of them (I gave her my friend Marc’s name) was giving me a ride so that when Johnny pulled up she would allow me to run out to the car. I phoned Marc and told him not to call my house the rest of the evening. Then, I waited by the front door ready to dash to Johnny’s car before he could get out.

This was my plan until my father came home early from work. Johnny pulled up to the curb as my father was standing just inside the door going through the requisite “how was your day” interrogation. “My ride is here!” I interrupted him and ran out the door. My father managed to ask who was driving before I could get safely out of earshot and I yelled “Marc” without looking back. At this point I didn’t think I had a chance, but I jumped in Johnny’s car anyway. My father was already bounding down the front steps after me.

I’m from New Jersey, land of the dreaded U-turn. My parents’ house happens to sit within a “U” so that the back of our house is facing the main road, a six-lane divided thoroughfare, and the front is facing a much quieter street used only by the neighborhood residents and the occasional lost and confused out-of-stater. There is only one obvious way to get from the house to the traffic light in order to make a left onto the thoroughfare that would put us in the direction of the movie theater. In order to evade my father, who clearly intended to follow us, I directed Johnny to make a right at the traffic light and then double back through the neighborhood once we were further down the main road. My father was not to be seen anywhere behind us and I began to relax as we drove back toward the light.

My ease quickly grew to anxiety when I saw my father approaching in his car, not from behind as I had anticipated, but from the one direction I wasn’t looking for him: directly in front and head-on. My father stopped his car within a few yards of Johnny’s and in such a manner that there was no getting around him — not that Johnny would have tried. Before I even saw him get out, my father was yanking open the passenger door. The look on his face was wild, yet he calmly told me to get out of the car. I tried to explain that it was just a friend, but now my father interrupted me, “That’s Johnny from work. Get out of the car.” Full of fear, I responded, “no.” Then it was Johnny who spoke: “Robin, get out of the car.” I suppose my father’s red face, crazy eyes and eerily calm voice were not lost on him. I had no choice.

I got out of the car and drove the hundred yards or so back to the house with my father. I truly believed that nothing could be more humiliating. How wrong I was. When we got home, my father immediately called my boss to explain that I would not be returning to work until Johnny was safely back at college.

To this day, I am still mortified by the scene my father caused. However, I am also profoundly grateful. Although nobody but Johnny will ever know his true intentions in asking me on a date during the last week he had home before returning to college, I think it’s safe to assume they were probably no more (or less) virtuous than most young men closer to my age. Despite this likelihood, my father was absolutely right to intervene in the date. My crush, as most crushes are, was intense, and Johnny’s experience in dating and social life in general far surpassed mine. The possible outcomes for that night, had I been allowed to go on the date, are endless. But there was only one outcome once my father interceded: I would not be taken advantage of by an older guy with vastly greater life experience.

Despite whatever I may have said to him that night, I will forever be grateful my father was willing to risk a little humiliation — mine in front of Johnny and his in front of the entire neighborhood — all to ensure my safety and emotional well-being.

~Robin Pepper Biasotti

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